Progressives have long understood that when the Republicans move right, the Democrats always scamper deferentially after them. It has been this way since the ‘Reagan revolution,’ when neoliberalism was installed as the bipartisan ideology of the US state. In post-Reagan America, it does not matter whether or not an elected official has a “D” or an “R” appended to their name: austerity and imperialism continue unabated. Consider NAFTA (proposed by Reagan in 1980 and implemented by Clinton in 1992), the War on Terror, Obama’s bank bailout and his “humanitarian” interventions across the Global South, Trump’s unprecedented upward transfers of wealth (the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and the CARES Act) and his ruthless attacks on Palestine, Iran, Syria, Yemen, and numerous progressive governments in the Western Hemisphere.
The Biden administration is just over one month old, but it is already clear that it will follow obediently in the well-established tradition of spineless American liberalism. Biden has already abandoned the $15 minimum wage, bombed Syria, refused to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia or to re-enter the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (commonly referred to as the “Iran nuclear deal”), and promised to maintain the devastating blockade on Venezuela which, according to a report by United Nations Special Rapporteur Alena Douhan, has caused the government’s revenue to “shrink by 99 percent with the country currently living on one percent of its pre-sanctions income.” Most recently, the Biden administration has signaled that it will continue Trump’s aggressive approach to Cuba—and the empire’s junior partner, Canada, has expressed its support for this liberal rebranding of Trump-era interventionism.
The Roadmap for a Renewed US-Canada Partnership, released after a virtual meeting between Biden and Trudeau on February 23, does not mention Cuba directly. The summary ambiguously notes that the leaders “reviewed the situations in Venezuela, Myanmar, Iran, Yemen, and the Middle East,” and discussed “sources of instability and irregular migration in Central America.” Cuba wouldn’t be referenced until February 26, in a communique released by Global Affairs Canada following a meeting between Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The communique notes that “both [men] reaffirmed a commitment to address human rights and needed reforms in Cuba.” While Canada has frequently joined the vast majority of the international community in condemning America’s unilateral blockade of Cuba (during the last vote, held on November 7, 2019, 187 countries called for an immediate end to the blockade, while only America, Israel, and Brazil voted against the motion), this statement effectively affirms Canada’s support for Washington’s anti-Cuba aggression, regardless of its condemnation of American policy at the UN. Isaac Saney, spokesperson for the Canadian Network on Cuba (CNC), noted on March 2 that the Canadian government is “deliberately parroting the disinformation of the United States State Department about Cuba” and that “Ottawa’s open alignment with US policy is deeply disturbing and alarming.”
Trudeau’s subservience to US imperialism in Latin America has been evident for years, and policymakers in Washington are well aware of his loyalties. An unclassified State Department document from August 9, 2017 bears the following subject line: “Canada Adopts ‘America First’ Foreign Policy.” The document notes that Trudeau selected current Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland for the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2017 “in large part because of her strong US contacts,” and that Marc Garneau (at the time Minister of Transport and head of the Canada-US Cabinet committee) “also brings strong US ties from a career as an astronaut and nine years in Houston.”
However, Canada’s growing conformity to the Washington line on Latin American issues is not unique to Trudeau. This process began in 2007 with Harper’s increased focus on the region, a period which saw him sign free trade agreements with many violent right-wing governments in the area, including Colombia and Honduras. Presently, Canada’s hands-on involvement in imperial offensives against Venezuela (primarily through the Lima Group, a coalition of anti-Bolivarian neoliberal governments) and Cuba is evidence of just how important the region has become for North American capital.
Biden has revealed that he is unwilling to challenge any of Trump’s most destructive policy decisions. Far from expressing an interest in lifting the blockade against Cuba, he has once again connected sanctions relief to internal reform (in other words, openness to US capital) and has even refused to repeal former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s absurd designation of Cuba as a sponsor of terror, a move which Saney notes was “an act of blatant opportunism and cynicism, flying in the face of the reality that it is Cuba that has been the victim of all manner of terrorist attacks carried out with the complicity, participation and sponsorship of Washington.”
A renewed détente with Cuba, as well as a recommitment to the JCPOA, seemed like two common-sense policy adjustments for the Biden administration to make if it wanted to return to Obama’s already deeply inadequate approach to Cuba and Iran. These moves were two of Obama’s only foreign policy successes, and they were welcomed by progressive critics of the Democratic Party as necessary steps toward the thawing of these sclerotic, obsolete rivalries and eventually the normalization of relations. Both projects were destroyed by Trump, and now, instead of trying to reassemble the fragments, Biden is burying those Obama-era victories once and for all—and Canada is welcoming their abandonment. It is a disgraceful but not unsurprising move from two uninspired politicians whose administrations are filled with adherents to the stagnant, unimaginative Western foreign policy consensus.
As the Biden administration (with Canada’s approval) spends its first months reaffirming Trump’s most immoral foreign policy decisions, the old quote by Tanzania’s first president Julius Nyerere rings true once again: “The United States is also a one-party state, but with typical American extravagance, they have two of them.”
Owen Schalk is a writer based in Winnipeg. His areas of interest include post-colonialism and the human impact of the global neoliberal economy.